Homeward Bound
A New Arc Begins

by Phantombard

Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, and is offered for non-profit entertainment. It may not be sold, may be downloaded for personal use only, and must contain this statement. The characters and concepts from the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess, including Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, Ares, Aphrodite, Yodoshi/Eater of Souls, Borias, Varia, Cyane, Livia/Eve, etc., are the creations and property of MCA/Universal, and Renaissance Pictures. No malice is intended to these characters or concepts. I would like to express my thanks to the creators of this outstanding production for sharing them with us for six short years.

This story contains violence, anguish, angst, a warrior poltergeist, imported mineral water, and a relationship between two warrior women derived from the depictions in the TV series. Of course it's all presented in good taste. These topics may be disturbing to some readers just as they were to some viewers of the series episodes. Oh well…just look at the pictures. This story is set following the series finale, "A Friend in Need", and assumes the reader has seen that episode. This could be the opening episode for season seven if the TPTB and the sponsors would indulge us.

Berate or praise me at the address listed above. Been there done that.

Special Thanks: To my beta reader, Sydney Alexis, without whose invaluable assistance you would be correcting my spelling and punctuation, among other things.

Feedback: jn401160@aol.com

"Last week on Xena: The Warrior Princess fought her last battle, allowing herself to be shot and beheaded. After becoming a ghost, Xena defeated Yodoshi, the Lord of the Dark Land, while battling in the spirit world. At stake were the souls of 40,000 people who had died in a fire Xena had caused years before. After destroying Yodoshi and freeing the souls, Xena had to remain dead to allow those same souls their revenge. And so she stopped Gabrielle, who was poised to bring her back to life, and broke her heart. Gabrielle sailed away from Japa with Xena's ghost and an urn bearing her body's ashes."


I've heard the claim made by travelers that returning home seems faster than an outbound voyage. Most times, I think it seems to be true. But sometimes the trip back takes so long it feels like it will never end. Of course it's all perception. A good trip ends too soon, while a bad trip won't end soon enough. My return from Japa seemed to take forever, but really only a few years passed before all of me made it home.

I spent the first three weeks aboard a ship navigating the eastern sea, following the coast of Chin. Sailing the sea roads of Chin's south sea took another two and a half weeks. After those five and a half weeks we finally headed west. Two more weeks passed, skirting the jungle kingdoms of Khmer and Myanmar. Though the sailors could determine our latitude, our longitude was always a guess, and so, like all prudent navigators, our captain kept to the coasts.

"Xena, why do we have to quadruple our voyage by hugging land, instead of just taking the shortest route?" I whispered angrily, turning away from the sailors and looking out to sea. I'd never enjoyed sailing.

"Well, we don't want to get lost." She replied with a grin.

I wanted to smack her, but the crew already thought I was possessed, whispering to myself all the time. She took advantage of being invisible and kissed the side of my head.

"Uh huh, no one wants to fall off the edge of the world." I said, though I really believe we'd just sail all the way around, back to where we started. "I mean why can't we just set the most direct course?"

"Well, Gabrielle, our position north or south can be found by the angle of the sun at noon, but we can't find our position east or west…all we can do is guess, based on our sailing speed. Eventually the errors would add up and we'd crash in the dark." It was one of her longer explanations, and I'm sure there was more to it than that.

I sighed. "Someday someone will figure this out."

"And someday people will fly." She replied, laughing at the absurdity of another idea I believe in.

"I wish." I whispered, as I watched the coastline inch by.

During that time it seemed like we'd had every possible heartfelt talk, Xena's ghost and I. My shock and denial, pleading and resignation, and finally the acceptance of her death had pushed and pulled at my emotions. Being able to see her spirit, talk to her, and feel her touch went a long way to cushioning my loss. At the same time, her spirit's presence made it impossible for time to heal me. It was like a chronic pain constantly soothed with willow bark. I could adjust, but I would never, "get over it and move on".

I felt most alive with my dead love's spirit. I gave only what was left over to the living. In my own way I was as trapped in the limbo between life and death as Xena was. I knew I would never give up wanting her alive. I also knew I couldn't bring her back. And I knew I loved her more than ever in spite of being so completely conflicted.

At times I reflected on the fact that I was now a warrior. I'd learned so much with Xena as my mentor. I'd literally "grown up" at her side, and I was no longer a naive village girl. I was a survivor. And I felt lost. Through the years I had come to see myself as her counterpart and her partner. Whether I was bard, follower of Eli, Amazon Queen, or archangel, I was the light to her dark while she completed me. Now I felt so incomplete. I was better able to chart my way in the world than most will ever be, yet I was adrift.

I felt torn between maintaining my familiar partnership with Xena the Warrior Ghost, or becoming Gabrielle the Warrior Princess. I guess it was my identity crises. Should I pursue my future alone when I wasn't really alone? Should I continue our mission together when we weren't really together? Of course this was only a question for the rest of this life. I never doubted our destiny of being together in our future lives.

After sailing for almost two months we reached the Strait of Malacca where the peninsula of Malaya parallels the Spice Island of Samudra. There the winds fought us, denying our ship passage for three weeks. Despite the best efforts of the sailors we made no headway. Frustrated by the delay, I stood tensely staring over the railing at the unmoving shore. Xena leaned against me, calming my nerves by caressing my shoulders. I was happy having her constant expressions of the love that I craved. I was saddened knowing I couldn't express my love for her in public without drawing unwanted attention.

Finally the winds shifted to blow from the northeast, and our ship made headway through the Strait. On our first night, we were attacked by pirates. They made the mistake of thinking us a lone merchantman, easy prey. About thirty of their crew boarded, but they hadn't expected my fury. Already grim from over ten weeks at sea, I fought with a viciousness that was wholly foreign to me. I had my katana and Xena's chakram. I almost felt like I had her rage and darkness as well. The sailors armed themselves with cutlasses, pikes, and belaying pins. The battle was short. We killed them all and threw their bodies overboard.

Our captain cut the ships apart. The pirate ship drifted, now too sparsely manned to make repairs and sail. In the battle, a throw of the chakram had cut their rigging. Later that night the sharks had the last of them when their ship went on the rocks. It didn't seem strange to me that I felt nothing for them. We passed the Strait in eleven days with a fair wind at our backs.

Xena and I had talked after the battle, as I'd cleaned the blood off my weapons.

"Gabrielle, I was worried about you…when those three pirates had you cornered against the mast, and I couldn't do anything."

"It turned out ok, Xena, but I missed having you beside me," I said to reassure her. I'd had them right where I'd wanted them, and quickly impaled one pirate, beheaded another, and cut the third one's throat with the chakram.

"You've really learned to fight with that sword."

"I've had good teachers," I told her, "but it felt like the sword had a mind of its own."

"They claim a katana has a spirit…the soul of the warrior." Xena mused.

"Well, this one seems to like blood." I said without thinking.

"Yes it does. I've never seen you so, uhh, efficient." Xena said thoughtfully. I had killed twelve men in the battle, and she'd had a ringside seat for the action.

"I guess I just did what I needed to do." I replied with confidence.

There had been no hesitation in my fighting, no questioning of the necessity. I had made each kill with a minimum of effort and then moved on to the next. Most of my enemies had fallen with only one or two strokes of the katana. When I had thrown the chakram I'd had no doubts about its path. The Gabrielle that Xena remembered would have been trying not to throw up.

At the time, my memory of swallowing water from the Fountain of Strength was lost among so many others from those moments on Mt. Fuji. The immediate threats had driven it deep. I had been more aware of the effects of the dragon tattoo, but that was for protection. The enchanted water was for prowess. Coupled with a blessed and bloodthirsty katana, and the chakram, whose power wasn't fully understood by anyone, I held an even greater potential for mayhem than Xena had. The difference was that my spirit wasn't driven by anger, ambition, or atonement, just impatience, uncertainty, and grief.

By the time we'd crossed the Bengali Bay another three weeks had passed. Sailing the Ocean of Indus took several more weeks. Then I spent ten days in the city of Mumbai, awaiting winds that would drive a ship west to the Sinus Arabicus. Even with constant winds that voyage took almost three more weeks. Our ship sailed north, up to the port of Clysma. There I joined a caravan carrying frankincense, overland to Heliopolis in the Roman province of Aegypt. From Heliopolis it was a two-day ride to Memphis where I boarded a barge on the Nile. For another week I rode the current north to the familiar city of Alexandria. After over five months I had returned to the world of Claudius Caesar and the Roman Empire. I still didn't feel like I was any closer to home.


Alexandria brought back its own set of memories. Xena's masquerade as Cleopatra among them. It seemed so long ago. I realized I had outlived four Roman Emperors: Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. Of them all, I could remember only the young Octavius with any fondness. Xena had saved Octavius' life, and he became Augustus Caesar. Later her removal of Caligula had brought Claudius Caesar to power. Xena had prompted Brutus to kill Julius Caesar, had personally destroyed Caligula, and had defeated Pompey, Crassus, Brutus, and Antony. Her courage had changed the world.

When she killed Marc Antony she had killed a man she might have loved. If things had just been different she might have been able to turn him from his darkness. Such things had been done before. But she placed the Greater Good above her feelings, and there had been no time.

When her own time came, Xena could do no differently. Once, after surviving a tsunami, she had told a murderer she expected no more of him, and could expect no less of herself. When she died so she could destroy Yodoshi, and then remained dead to avenge his 40,000 captives, she again placed the Greater Good above her feelings. Even above her feelings for me. And I, I who had convinced her that the Greater Good outweighed a person's desires…I argued against her sense of duty because of my feelings of love. Of course I couldn't convince her from my heartbroken and morally bankrupt stance. Yet she had saved me when I had accidentally killed Korah in the desert, saying our love transcended the Greater Good. And I had eventually accepted that. She could expect no more from me, and she expected no less from herself.

Alexandria was a cosmopolitan city, a great capitol and port, filled with people of all descriptions. It was a place to lose oneself, but I wanted to find myself. I started by returning to the things I had known. In the Greek quarter I found a room at an inn where I could pay my room and board by plying my old trade as a bard. Four nights a week I told stories to the crowds. After the first week I had a following of regulars, and the inn was filled for my performances. The innkeeper was happy, though he didn't offer me more money. I didn't care because getting rich wasn't my aim.

Along with the tales of ancient heroes and gods, I presented more personal works. They became the crowds' favorites. It was a rare thing for bards to tell of their own lives, and rarer still for them to have anything of interest to say. Before the first story ended I had that crowd in the palm of my hand, cheering, laughing, and sometimes crying. And sometimes I joined them. I saw the performances as a way of reliving my past, revisiting the years I'd spent with Xena. It was bittersweet and self-defining.

I started at the beginning, with the tale called, "Sins of the Past", in which we'd first met. In my mind's eye I saw Xena as she had been - younger, harder, and so uncertain of the new world her heart was leading her into. I saw myself as an innocent girl, enamored of the excitement she represented, and longing to escape my life in Potidiae. I watched Xena's ghost, leaning against a wall in a dark shadow, listening as I told our story. I saw her laugh, and I saw her cry.

As the nights flowed into weeks, and then months, I carried on with my program of rediscovering what we'd had. The audience got to hear the stories in the order they had occurred, "Chariots of War", "Dreamworker", "Cradle of Hope". When I came to the thirteenth story, "Athens City Academy of Performing Bards", I remembered something important. I'd fought to compete for a place at the academy, telling stories of Xena's adventures. I had realized I preferred living those adventures to telling stories about them. I'd recognized that my place was with Xena, and I had returned to her, forsaking the academy. What I had with her outweighed what I could have had alone. But there was another lesson that I'd overlooked as time passed. In the flush of discovering how much our life together meant to me, I undervalued my own strengths. I had instilled in Homer the confidence to follow his own muse. I had, even then, been able to succeed while acting alone.

That night Xena's ghost and I talked about the extent to which we had each been consumed by our relationship. In the passage of our years together it had come to mean more than anything. Yet in the end there had been things capable of dividing us. The pressures of our lifestyle had assured that we would be constantly tested.

"You know, Xena, if we were both selfish, boring, lust besotted mercenaries we'd probably still be together." I joked, as I lay on my side with her spooned around my back.

"Maybe…but Gabrielle, people like that don't bathe very often. Would you still want me if I smelled like last week's dinner and my clothes could walk by themselves?"

We were both giggling, and yes, I'd had some wine with my dinner.

"I guess what I'm saying is that I admire your principles." I told her, a little more seriously, rolling over and looking into her eyes.

"I didn't think it was just the leather dress." Xena deadpanned.

Above the intimacy of the physical lay the honesty of our emotions, but above that was the purity of ideals. Our tests had come from the dynamics of conflict between these levels. Our principles had laid the foundation for our emotions, and our emotions validated our physical gratification. Through our commitment to the Greater Good we had found each other's love and admiration. We had become each other's heroes. The depth of what we felt made every physical expression profound. A glance, a smile, a simple touch, each could communicate more than I would have believed possible. It was so much more than either of us had experienced before. Only in each other had we found our eternal soulmate, in whom spirit, body, and soul were crystallized together.

"Xena, I know you felt like you had to die to atone for your past mistakes, for the Greater Good, and to save the 40,000 of Higuchi. You claim you learned that from me?" I asked, to clarify a thought I'd had.

"Being with you taught me the good and right thing to do at the end."

"So you'd say I taught you an ethic?" I asked.

"Absolutely." She stated without hesitation.

"That's a big change from the Destroyer of Nations." I said with a smile.

"Yes and no," she commented, thoughtfully, "it's one of them anyway."

"How do you mean?"

"To set aside my desire to be with you and sacrifice my life was certainly a change. My strategies had always been more self-serving in the past." She said, smiling at the understatement. "But the big change for me was letting myself feel so strongly for someone else. I guess you remember Korah?"

At the mention of his name I felt ice form in the pit of my stomach.

"When I went against the Greater Good to save you," Xena explained, "I did it because I felt my love outweigh my ethics."

"But when it was 40,000 souls instead of just one, your ethics outweighed the love we have?" I asked, afraid of the answer.

"Never!" She stated vehemently, "the numbers didn't matter. What mattered was that it was my fault, not yours. I would ignore the Greater Good even if you had caused the deaths of 40,000 souls. Gabrielle, I would have done anything to save you."

For long moments I couldn't say anything. Finally I whispered, "But you wouldn't let me do just one thing to save you."

She looked at me and I saw the tears forming in her eyes.

"No, Gabrielle, no. You had done the same for me long ago."

"What do you mean?" I choked out, for by then I was crying too.

"Your beliefs were always such a strong part of you. They're what make you so special. You tried to follow the Way of Peace and the Way of Love. You ignored them both for me when the chips were down."

I could only look at her, too upset to understand.

"In the courtyard below Mt. Amorro…you forgot everything Eli had ever said, and you defended me. You could have escaped. You have never given up on me. And on Mt. Fuji you would have saved me in spite of everything you believe."

"I love you, Xena." It was all the explanation I could offer.

"Gabrielle, I never believed anyone could love me like that. I guess I started having doubts as a child when I still thought my father just left us. Then my mother rejected me when Lyceus was killed. After a while I didn't believe that love was more than a tool to further my ambitions - at best it was treacherous, a disturbing hazard to my resolve. Later I could see love between people, but I was so tainted by my past I never believed anyone could do more than tolerate me."

"Oh, Xena, no…you deserved to be loved, you did." I whispered, feeling her pain as if it were my own. "Look at all the good you did."

"When I started trying to make up for my past I knew I'd never undo what I had done. Of all the people whose lives I ruined I only brought back one, Callisto. No matter what good I was able to do, it would never have been enough. But you started out innocent. You had no burden of evil to atone for. And I would not let you die for one mistake. You see, Gabrielle, what I really learned from you, above the ethics, above the Greater Good…it was love, Gabrielle, simple, unselfish, undying love."

I hugged her and I cried myself to sleep.

My performances at the inn continued. When I told the story, "The Prodigal", I found myself again restoring another's confidence. This time the drunken warrior Meleager. The irony was that as the story began I had lost confidence in myself. I believed I was a liability and a hazard to Xena, and so I had left to return to Potidiae. Again I had acted on my own, and again I had succeeded. My strength with words, which had served me well at the academy, was aided by my increasing understanding of tactics, for I had assisted in the village defense. I was also improving with the staff…I could beat Joxer, as I did in "Callisto", which I told a week later. But I was still all too often a victim in need of rescue by the Warrior Princess. We had been friends and traveled together for a year. I remember sometimes wondering why Xena put up with me.

I hadn't realized how her feelings for me had grown, and then I told of my first death during the story, "Is There a Doctor in the House". Xena had been frantic thinking she'd lost me when she couldn't get me to start breathing. Her panic foreshadowed the depth of feeling that would grow between us. I saw it in her prayer for my soul's light during, "Return of Callisto", and in the promises she made to me during, "One Against An Army".

By then we had been through so much. In two and a half years we had been to Chin, Britannia, Syria, Italia, Palestine, and all over Greece. I had lost my blood innocence and I had killed my only child…and I had betrayed Xena for my ideals. I swore it would never happen again, that no one would come between us. Before the year was out I chose to die for her, and kill my daughter again.

During our fourth year together I searched for myself, for a new way of life. I followed several teachers. Some were frauds or psychos. I was guilty of being an impressionable sheep, needing to be led to a utopia that couldn't be. In the end I found the one I should have followed and the way of life I sought were one. I discovered it just in time to die for the third time. At least this time we died together. It was another beginning.

After that I was changed. I lost my illusions of peace at any cost. When we came back, part of the Archangel Gabrielle stayed with me. Xena needed me, and being depended on for our safety was a kind of graduation. Now I wanted to be her partner, and I wasn't happy being a liability. Within a few months I was helping Xena defend her newborn daughter from the gods. She wouldn't have been able to defend us both. As the year passed I became more and more a warrior, redefining myself.

I died twice that year, once as part of a plan that was extended by a meddling God of War, and again twenty-five years later. The second death I don't remember as clearly, for I was being driven by the Furies. Under their influence I dealt Xena's daughter a mortal wound. I came to despise Fate then. Being Xena's soulmate, my actions had killed both her children. How could such things happen? What cruelty drove the world so that the one who loved her most caused her most grievous wounds? The Furies still possessed me when Xena's chakram slammed into the back of my head. I would have died from shame and remorse if it hadn't. Then, in the ultimate twist of fate, a meddling God of War saved us all.

In our last year together things began to look up. We settled a lot of scores that year. Xena made peace with the son of her old lover Borias. Our relationship with the Amazons improved as we saved their tribes three times. Eve's blood debt to them was finally laid to rest, as were the Furies. Then I found myself the reluctant Battle Queen of the Amazon Nation, so many years after serving as their Queen in absentia. I did what I needed to do to win our survival, but I was swept up by blood lust in the final battle. In that moment I understood the rage and power I had seen in Xena, especially in our early years…and she was the one who stopped me from starting down the road to her past. Our roles had reversed that day, and I was reminded of "The Price".

Some of Xena's old debts started to resurface as well. Beowulf, a man from the Norse lands found us in a tavern one night, and shattered our peace with a rusted lock. He led Xena away to right a wrong from thirty-five years before, five years before I had met her. It took over a year, but when Xena and I finally left the Norse lands, she had done more than slay a monster. She had returned two treasures, the Rhinegold and Grinhilda.

Then things turned dark. First was Caesar. He had found a way to create a universe where an altered fate had kept Xena and I apart. She was Caesar's, the Empress of Rome. I was a playwright and I became a victim of Alti's ambition. Yet even in that world, Xena and I were drawn together by love, and our destiny was stronger than fate. As the web of betrayals played out, Xena was hoisted up to die on a cross in the rain as Alti assassinated Caesar in his bed. And I destroyed them all by burning the Loom of Fate. We came back to the world as it had been, and I lost my last doubts that the Hand of Destiny wove truer than the Loom of Fate.

The night I told the story, "When Fates Collide", I knew I was finished as a bard. I had told all my stories and I'd retrieved my past. The last story I'd never written down, and I deemed it unfinished, for I was unfinished, and my relationship with Xena would never end. So that night I went to the innkeeper. I thanked him for a wonderful year and a half, and made arrangements to leave in a week. My time in Alexandria was over.

"You know," Xena said, after I had returned to my room, "I always cry when you tell that story."

"I always cry when I tell that story too." I replied. "I had so much hope when we rode out of that foggy woods after I burned the loom."

"After what's happened since, I wish we had retired right then." Xena said, then added, "Well, or maybe after your birthday."

Her words fed the melancholy mood I was in, wondering about what that retirement would have been like. I dragged a strong box out from under my bed and unfastened the locks. The thing had gotten so heavy. Each night after my performance I'd slipped the coins the crowd left through a slot in the lid, keeping back only what I needed for a day or two. I hadn't unlocked the box in months. Now I opened the lid and stared at the contents. Leather saddlebags, water skins, a coat of cream leather with darker brown patches, body armor from Japa, my old rust colored traveling outfit, and the tall boots. I pulled them out and set them on my bed, brushing aside the litter of coins. At the bottom were a pair of sai, a katana, the chakram, and a small urn. My vision blurred as I lifted it and held it to my chest. Xena's hands squeezed my shoulders from behind as I sobbed and clutched her ashes. After everything I had rediscovered in the last eighteen months I felt no better than when I had watched the sun setting on Mt. Fuji.

I guess Xena must have spent the night holding me. She was still holding me when I awoke the next morning, curled on the floor clutching that urn, the bed strewn with clothes and weapons. Later I collected the coins in a saddlebag. After a year and a half there were over twelve hundred dinars. In silver it would be too heavy to travel with. I decided to convert most of it to gold.

My last week in Alexandria passed swiftly. I split the time between buying supplies for a journey back to Greece and doing more research in the library. I'd started shortly after my arrival, trying to read a little almost every day. I had read scrolls about ghosts, spiritualism, and Aegypt's gods. Despite their thousands of years of wisdom, most of it was old wives' tales and wishful thinking. There was no magic word or formula, just claims refuted elsewhere and quackery. I knew some things from my experiences, and I decided to talk with the Amazons when I returned to Greece. They had a rich spiritual heritage, and an impressive knowledge of practical magic. I was still searching for a way to bring Xena back. All too soon it was time to go.


Crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Alexandria to Thessalonika by way of Rhodes was a voyage of two and a half weeks. Every day Xena made me drill for hours with my old weapons. It took my mind off my last trip aboard ship, and the activity felt good. During the years of traveling with Xena I had been learning to fight, and fighting had been a frequent occurrence. The whole time I'd been Alexandria there had been no need to fight. I hadn't held my weapons in over a year. At first I ached after every session, and I'd retire to my cabin groaning from the soreness of my muscles. Xena would give me long massages as she pointed out the moves I needed to work on most. After a while the soreness diminished as my body regained its old tone and stamina. Xena was training me again, and I relished the familiar routine. Soon I began working on moves I'd never tried before. Since Japa my fighting was different, the movements more economical, more efficient, and more deadly. The style was more suited to my physique.

The sailors had mixed reactions to me. Most thought I was crazed and scary, flipping through the air and slashing at unseen enemies with a completely unfamiliar kind of sword. My habit of "talking to myself" as I caught my breath didn't help my reputation either. They assumed I was obsessed, going on for hours, drilling with the sword and sais to the point of exhaustion. Their captain warned them to leave me alone. I'd paid for my berth and given him extra silver to use his deck for my practice.

One night after we had retired, I asked Xena about the spirit world.

"Xena, I've seen Tartarus, heaven, hell, and the spirit realm of the Amazons. Why are those places not connected?"

"Well, Gabrielle, I think it's because the afterlife fulfills what a people believe. Each society has it's own myths, gods, and spiritual beliefs. They're mutually exclusive."

"So if I were in heaven again I wouldn't be able to visit Amarice in the Amazon's spirit realm, right?"

"Right, and if I were with you in heaven, I wouldn't be able to see Solon in Elysia."

I hadn't thought about that. "That's not right, Xena, you should be able to be with him. I wouldn't feel good about taking him away from you again."

"Gabrielle, I'm happy knowing he's there, and I'll be happy wherever you are. Any place we're together is where I want to be."

"And you know I want to be with you always."

So there was no overlap between spirit worlds, and souls couldn't communicate between them. Communication between the living and the dead had always been difficult after the soul of the dead person had entered its afterlife destination. Most interactions between the dead and the living occurred before the spirit had left the earthly plane. I couldn't help thinking about ways to bring her back. Unfortunately I hadn't found an answer, in the scrolls or my imagination.


When I debarked at Thessalonika I was back in fighting trim. Even Xena seemed impressed with my progress. The last time I'd fought was against the pirates in the Strait of Malacca, almost two years before. Now we were back in Greece where violence was always a possibility on the roads. I felt well prepared, and it was a good thing I did. Trouble, like what had followed Xena and I in the past, soon found me, as if it had been waiting for my return.

I stayed one night at an inn near the road leading north from the city, and in the morning I started my journey towards Amazon lands. The patchwork of fields gave way to open woods, accompanied by a cleaner scent to the air. I walked at an unhurried pace, enjoying the land as it became wilder. At night I camped under the stars, still able to bait Xena into arguments about the constellations.

On the third day out from Thessalonika I came upon a village under attack by a small and ragged band of brigands. The fighting was announced by the smell of smoke, yelled threats, and screams of fear and pain. Already houses were aflame and bodies littered the street. Perhaps twenty attackers, intent on plundering what they could, were besting a handful of ill-equipped defenders. It was a scene played out many times in my experiences with Xena. As in the past, there was nothing to do but try to help.

One of the outlaws raised his sword overhead, the down stroke aimed to smite a villager who lay on his back, defenseless. I flung the chakram from thirty paces, drawing my sword and charging as it sheared off his blade just above the hilt. It caromed off another attacker's helmet, knocking him out, and I started my assault. The first man I encountered swung his sword at my chest. His surprise barely registered on his face as my katana cut through both his blade and armor, disemboweling him. I pivoted, continuing the stroke at an up angle to lop off a second man's forearm as he tried to stab me from behind. His arm and hand, still gripping his sword, fell to the dirt as he shrieked in horror. I caught the returning chakram and clipped it to my waist.

In the next few minutes I knocked out or cut down another eight men. As with the pirates, I had no hesitation about fighting or killing. I was as efficient a warrior as Xena had been, and none of my enemies had a chance against me. Between the villagers and I, we disabled sixteen of the twenty attackers, and the survivors fled into the woods. I resisted the impulse to pursue them. Instead we tied up the unconscious brigands, and then I assisted the healer with the wounded.

There were many cuts and bruises, and a couple of broken bones to set. A lot of the villagers had been injured. The last casualty was heartbreaking. A young father, scarcely twenty summers old, had been struck in the head with a war club. The crushed area of his skull was his only real injury. I lifted his lids to check his eyes. They were dilated and unresponsive, one slightly larger than the other, and they were the most vivid blue. His breathing was normal and his heart beat strongly, but he could not be roused.

"His brain is damaged," Xena whispered to me, "and he may never wake. It's hard to tell with head injuries, but I guess he will never be more than he is now. He could hang on for years, slowly weakening and fading away."

I cried over the pointlessness of it when I met his wife and son. She was no older than I had been when I first followed Xena. Their baby had not reached his first full cycle of the seasons. He would know his father only as a man who never moved, never spoke, and never smiled. His wife would watch him, caught between life and death for years to come, unable to give or receive the feelings they had shared. Just a body she knew without the soul she loved. I had never felt so thankful for the company of Xena's spirit.

"Xena," I asked her that night, "where did that man's soul go? Was it trapped in that body, or had it moved on?"

"It wouldn't be trapped inside his body, Gabrielle. It'll probably stay in the area until it's ready to move on. Then maybe Celesta will come for him."

"So you don't think he's still in there?" I asked, feeling thankful for at least that small mercy.

"No, his soul couldn't be trapped that way unless a very evil spell had been cast." Xena told me authoritatively. "The blow to the head caused this separation, not a spell."

After a few days I had done all I could for the villagers, and so I continued on my way.


For a week I traveled north through Macedonia, headed for Amazon lands. It was summer, and the woods were lush and filled with life. In the branches birds sang, while small animals rustled in the undergrowth. I was still a day's walk from the border when the sounds of fighting shattered the peace of the forest. I heard the ringing of swords, the battle cries, and the screams of the wounded. Beneath the sounds I perceived danger and evil, and the suffering of friends. I moved towards the fighting with speed and caution.

"Careful, Gabrielle," Xena whispered in my ear. She must have sensed the same threat I did.

I looked around a tree trunk. Down the bank ahead of me a battle raged. About a dozen Amazons were fighting a much larger company of soldiers. Their gear was only vaguely familiar, but they were well armed and fought with viciousness and speed. Their swords were longer than the Amazon swords, and they took advantage of their reach as well as their greater numbers. Already four Amazons were down, but only two of the soldiers had fallen, and they had been shot with arrows. When the fight had become close, the Amazons had been forced to abandon their bows and draw their swords. The battle would end badly if it went on much longer. I slipped silently down the bank towards the fighting, and killed two of the enemy before they knew I was there.

The soldiers fought mostly by swinging their long swords in broad arcs, cornering their opponents and cutting them down. The Amazons weren't getting close enough most of the time to successfully counterattack. I leaped over the soldiers' blades or ducked below them. I struck just as their blades whistled past. While an opening would only last for a moment, my speed, and the moves I had practiced with Xena, gave me the tactics I needed. I slew another four before reaching the Amazon leader.

"Get your people out of here," I yelled at her, "get back among the trees where you can shoot at them. You'll all die if you stay."

She looked at me. She was young like her troops, and I didn't know her name. For a moment she hesitated. I saw another of her sisters cut down. I took out the two soldiers who had killed her with the chakram. It continued rebounding among the trees, separating another pair of combatants before returning to me. This had gone on too long. They were brave, but they had no sense of tactics, and they would be slaughtered.

"I'm sorry, but I have to stop this," I told her. I gave the Amazon signal for a retreat. The women disengaged and fled into the woods in all directions.

I dragged the stunned young leader with me, away from the battle. She was angry and finally shook herself free, turning to point her sword at me and take my measure.

"I would thank you for killing our enemies, but I should kill you for interfering with the battle." She declared, regaining her pride.

"At least now you may have that chance," I told her, smiling, "you would have been slaughtered the way you were fighting."

Xena stood next to me laughing out loud. I gave her a withering glance and she tried to contain herself. She'd dealt with young Amazon hotheads and their pride before. Her expression said that now it was my turn. Then she cocked her head, gesturing to warn me. Behind us there were stealthy footfalls in the leaves, barely to be heard.

"How do you know the Amazon retreat signal?" She demanded, never lowering her sword.

"Well, I guess it's because I'm an Amazon," I replied, enjoying the look of disbelief on her face.

"What tribe are you from?" She asked, suspicious, her weapon still ready.

"She's from my tribe." A familiar voice behind me claimed.

I whirled around to confirm the speaker's identity. Half a dozen paces behind me stood Varia, a wide smile on her face, her queen's medallion on her chest. She looked as strong and beautiful as ever, and she came towards me, offering her arm in greeting. We clasped forearms in the traditional Amazon manner.

"Welcome, Queen Gabrielle." She said. "You have been missed."

"Thank you, Queen Varia, it's good to see you."

"Where's Xena?" She asked, looking around the woods. For a moment I looked down, unable to answer her.

"She was alone, my queen." The young fighter I had rescued reported.

"Varia, she's dead." I said, my revelation greeted with a look of shock. "She died in Japa over two years ago."

"Let's go back to the village," she said quietly, giving me a sympathetic look I'd never seen on her face before, "we need to regroup, and maybe you can give us some advice."

The warriors who had survived the fight had assembled with their queen and her guards. Varia introduced me to them. I didn't recognize a single name. None of the Amazons we had saved at Helicon were in this group. When I asked her about this, Varia would only say that bad times and many battles had decimated the tribes.

We marched quickly, making good time, and I noticed Xena becoming apprehensive walking next to me. As we approached the village, I saw the trees bordering the road had been decorated with the bodies of enemies from many armies. Some were but days old, buzzing with flies and releasing a miasma of putrefaction. Others had weathered many seasons; just rags of cloth and bones, still knitted together by strands of dried flesh. Arrows still bristled from some of the cadavers. Only as we finally drew near the village did I realize how far we had walked beneath the corpse-laden trunks. There had been hundreds of grisly trophies guarding the way. Xena gaped at them in horror; they brought back some of her darkest memories. I felt little as I viewed the evidence of my sisters' wrath. Mostly it seemed like a waste of time to me. Varia and her Amazons maintained a grim silence. We arrived at the Amazon village a candle mark after dusk.

To my eyes it seemed almost deserted. Absent was the buzz of conversation, the chatter of children, or the occasional burst of song. The throngs of warriors that had joined together here as a nation just a few years ago were gone. I smelled only traces of smoke, rising from too few cook fires. Darkness shrouded the windows and doors in many of the living huts, proclaiming them empty. Xena shook her head sadly and vanished.

In the meeting hall there were now only two chairs at the Council of Queens. The walls of the chamber arched overhead into shadows, crowded with the masks of warriors killed in the constant fighting. Darkness stared from the eyeholes; empty and unblinking like the eyes of the dead. Below the silence I could almost sense their scrutiny, their veiled accusations, and their demands for revenge. Varia and the young Cyane sat with me after the evening meal, discussing all that had happened while I'd been away. As their tale progressed I came to feel ever more strongly the weight of the glare from the masks of so many dead. It was worse than the bodies along the road.

They told me that a succession of enemies had waged almost constant war on the Amazon Nation. For the last three years there had been no respite. Each battle had taken its toll and the nation had been depopulated through attrition. When I learned the reason, I cast my glance to the masks, and felt as if I had been stabbed through the heart.

After the battle of Helicon and the fall of Bellerophon, many had sought revenge. As always they sought Xena, but now they also sought me, as the Amazon queen. Their hatred was kindled against the Amazon Nation as well, for we had been last seen among them, and our ties were deep. So while Xena and I had been in Japa, on the seas, and in Alexandria, enemy after enemy had assaulted the Amazons. Now Varia commanded only three dozen warriors, living under a constant threat of siege.

All the civilians had been sent away, to blend in with the outside population of the surrounding countryside. Their old allies, the centaurs, were gone, and no one had stood with them. Varia and Cyane had presided over the twilight of the nation. With the arrival of their newest enemy, they foresaw the dark of night.

"Who are these enemies?" I asked, after our silence had stretched on a while.

"We believe they are a temple army," Cyane said, "seeking revenge for their dead god."

"In the past, the remnants of the temple armies of Athena, Poseidon, and Hades have fought against us," Varia explained, "along with several groups of mercenaries and the armies of a couple warlords who held grudges against us, or Xena."

"Has Ares' army attacked you?" I asked.

"Amazingly enough, no they haven't," Cyane revealed, "and we've always wondered if he wasn't just waiting to finish us off at the end."

That was curious. With so many battles I would have expected him to make at least a token appearance. I tried to understand why Ares would be holding back. He had assaulted the Amazons before, but he had been under the influence of the Furies then. He'd been searching for non-existent ambrosia, hoping to regain his godhood. If the armies of the other gods were avenging the Twilight, then Ares had nothing to avenge. He and Aphrodite had been returned to the status of gods by eating Odin's golden apples, which Xena had provided. He owed us. On the other hand, Varia had ultimately rejected his patronage and refused to become his follower. As I continued to ponder the God of War's motives, there was a flash, and Ares appeared.

"Why the long faces? Did somebody die?" He asked, as he surveyed the collection of masks. His gaze finally came to rest on me. "You know, I can sense when warriors think about me and mention my name."

"It's not like we were calling on you." I told him, without ranker. I hadn't seen him in years, and with Xena no longer available, I guess he hadn't had any reason to appear.

"Well, maybe you should," he suggested with a smile, "I might be willing to help the remnants of your nation survive."

"Why on earth would you do that?" I asked, wanting to learn his plan.

"Gabrielle," he said, striding over to stand in front of me, "you have become quite a fighter recently. Now you're going to aid the last of my sister's people. I might just be willing to give you a hand, for old times sake."

He was grinning his familiar grin, and I knew there was more to his offer. There always was.

"Ares, Xena killed your sisters. The Amazons beat your army. I can't believe you'd help us against another god's army now."

He gave me an appraising look. I'd heard rumors about the rivalries between Ares and both Athena and Artemis. I also recalled him tackling Xena in Rome, to prevent her from killing Caligula and endangering Aphrodite. Sure she was one of the last of his family, but I'd heard rumors about them too. It was a bard thing. Maybe there were old animosities between him and the other surviving gods.

"Think about it, Gabrielle." He said, watching me intently. "With your track record, what god would have a grudge against you, Xena, and the Amazons?"

So it was a temple army. And it was a god who held a grudge against all of us. He was smiling and slowly nodding as he watched the wheels turning in my head. The soldiers had seemed vaguely familiar; I knew had seen them before somewhere. They had sought to even a score against the Amazons, formerly Artemis' people, against me, their queen, and against Xena, who had killed gods. Artemis…she was the mother of Bellerophon and the twin sister of Apollo. The soldiers…I had fought them before, just after Eve was born.

"It's Apollo. He's out to avenge his sister and her son Bellerophon."

"Very good, Gabrielle," he said, "now what will you do to keep yourselves from being slaughtered?"

"We have to make some plans," I told Varia and Cyane urgently, "this is a serious army, with poisoned blades and large numbers of men."

"Like I said," Ares remarked, "I might be willing to help."

This I had to hear. "What did you have in mind, Ares?"

"Oh, just agree to a little alliance," he claimed, "and I'll order my army to fight for the survival of the Amazon Nation."

"Why would you be willing to aid us against the army of Apollo? He's your brother, and Xena did kill Artemis. She was your sister too."

"Well yes, Artemis is dead." He remarked, as if thinking it through for the first time. "That means the warrior nation of the Amazons has no patron deity to intercede on their behalf with the other gods."

"So this alliance, if we pledged our nation to the God of War…" I continued for him.

"What a wonderful idea, Gabrielle," Ares laughed, "I knew they made you a queen for some reason."

"Never! I almost made that mistake once." Varia yelled as she leapt from her chair to confront him. Cyane just looked on in shock.

"Why not?" Ares asked Varia, with his most innocent expression. "It doesn't seem like a mistake to me. The Amazons would survive, I'd gain some hot looking worshippers, and we'd send a message to that harping pantywaist of a god from Delphi. See, everyone wins."

I was shaking with laughter. His logic was flawless and about as possible as a cow jumping over the moon. Varia was seething and Cyane was still mortified. I don't think she was used to dealing with gods.

"Ares, somehow I suspect the popular sentiment won't allow such a happy solution," I told him, still giggling, "but thanks for the offer, and the info."

"Just think about it, Gabrielle," he said with a smile, "call me if you change your mind. Oh yeah, and they're headed your way. You'll probably be attacked in the morning."

He vanished with a flash, just as Xena appeared next to me. For a moment she stared at all the masks.

"He's right," she whispered, "I've been scouting around. There's an army of two hundred men encamped just two candle marks march south."

"You've heard what he proposed, I guess?" I asked her.

"Yeah," she replied, "that's a new one, but not really such a surprise. I wouldn't be too amazed if I found he'd been inflaming the temple armies against the Amazons just to get them into a corner where they'd have to bargain."

"Same old slime ball, huh?" I asked rhetorically.

"Who are you talking to, Gabrielle?" Cyane asked me, looking concerned.

Oops, I thought, guess I slipped up, being with friends and having so much going on.

"It's kind of a long story," I told them, "but maybe it'll be good for you to know. We have another ally…."

I told them that I was accompanied by Xena's spirit. At first they looked at me like I was insane. After a half a candle mark I managed to convince them. They also accepted Xena's info on the position and number of their enemy. We spent some more time planning. I had suggested a little surprise for Apollo's troops.


The night was still young and the new moon preserved the darkness. Still, I managed to move silently through the forest. Behind me the Amazons occasionally cursed as a branch whipped their faces or a root stubbed their toes. With the almost complete lack of light we had to travel slower than I had hoped, but we could see the enemy's campfires a mile away. They were in a clearing surrounded by trees, a perfect killing ground. There were only twenty-five of us. Our attack party was made up of Cyane's archers and a detail of guards, Varia, and myself. As we approached their camp our archers shot the sentries as they patrolled, silhouetted against the fires. None suspected our advance.

When our archers had positioned themselves in the trees, Varia whistled and we began our attack. We shot anyone moving in the light of the campfires. A few soldiers tried to hunt us in the woods, and these we cut down among the trees by stealth. I had ordered our warriors to evade, rather than engage the soldiers openly, and only to kill from concealment. For a while it seemed to be working. When the soldiers advanced into an area of woods, our troops fell back, to regroup and attack from another position. We avoided and shot them easily in the dark, for they made targets of themselves with their torches. I had estimated our success at about forty-five kills. Then I heard fighting and swords clashing a short distance away. It was just the kind of fight I had hoped to avoid.

I ran towards the sounds of the battle and surprised a squad of soldiers. They were circling around behind Varia's guards, and they had abandoned their torches. Unfortunately for them, their eyes still hadn't adjusted to the darkness. Between a cast of the chakram and my swordwork I managed to slay five of them. From the sixth I snatched a war club as it whistled past my head in the dark. I beat the last soldier down with his own weapon, and it felt good in my hand. They had never even been sure where I was.

Ahead the sounds of fighting had almost ceased. I quickly advanced in silence to a space between several trees. There I saw an Amazon desperately fighting off two soldiers. Their backs were to me, and I thought I could cut one of them down and even the odds. Suddenly another one charged at me in the dark, and I lost a crucial moment knocking the attacker out. The delay kept me from stopping the two soldiers before they cornered and impaled the last Amazon guard. I managed to strike both of them down with a tricky throw of the chakram. Now there was only silence and I examined the aftermath of the fight. Slain soldiers and Amazons bearing sword wounds. I counted seventeen bodies all together. Ignoring the two squads of soldiers, I began to examine the five Amazons, and to my horror the last body I found was Varia.

She was still breathing, but she wasn't conscious. I found a slash across her stomach, but the wound wasn't deep. The other Amazons, members of her guard, had all died by the soldiers' swords. I hoisted their queen onto my shoulders and gave the signal for a retreat. Our remaining warriors faded into the dark and headed back to the village. When they caught up with me they were shocked and saddened to find me bearing Varia's body. We took turns carrying her home in silence.

Back in the village we tended the wounded in the healer's hut. There was no healer; she had been killed months before. I treated the injured with Xena's advice. Other than Varia and her four guards, no one had been lost. Luckily, those who survived had mostly minor wounds. They would all be ready to bear arms again in the morning when the enemy attacked.

I had checked Varia, and except for the slash on her stomach I couldn't find what was wrong. The slash wasn't even deep enough to need stitches. A bandage and some infection preventing herbs were all her wound required. She was breathing normally, and her heartbeat was strong. When I checked her eyes I got a sinking feeling. They were unresponsive, dilated, the left pupil slightly larger than the right. She responded to nothing; a bright flame, a pinprick, loud noises, none were acknowledged.

"Help me, Xena," I whispered, and she appeared beside me, staring down at the queen.

"She was struck in the back of the head with a war club." Xena told me sadly. She regarded me for a moment, then continued. "A dozen soldiers snuck up in the dark and attacked her and her guards. I don't know if she'll recover."

"You mean…she could be like that man in the village!" I exclaimed in horror. "She'll just sleep forever?"

"I'm not completely sure," Xena said quietly, "how were her eyes?"

I looked down as my tears started to fall. Xena understood what I'd seen without having to hear a word. Her shoulders slumped. She'd tried hard to help this young queen, tried several times to honor her dying friend Marga's last wish. I knew what she was thinking.

"Xena, don't you even begin to blame yourself for what's happened here." I demanded of her through my tears. "She was a warrior and warriors get injured fighting. She was doing her duty as a queen, leading her people in battle."

"Gabrielle, Apollo's army is attacking the Amazons now because of me. The other armies attacked because of me. Their hatred for me has destroyed the Amazon Nation."

She was crying openly, and I could see she was consumed with guilt. Even death had brought her no peace. Even in death she was finding new things to atone for. I wrapped my arms around her, not caring who saw me hugging empty air, and walked her back to my hut. For a while she was inconsolable. All I could do was hold her. I couldn't even think of anything to refute her guilt.

I'd felt the same when Varia had first told me of the attacks. Our friendship with the Amazon Nation had brought the vengeance of so many against them. Now I believed there was only one path for me. It was the path that had begun when I tried to save an Amazon princess so many years before. I would die fighting as a queen of the Amazon Nation. I would lead them in their last battle as I had led them at Helicon. I would take on the guilt and the debt for both Xena and myself.

"Xena," I said softly, "I'm going to lead the remaining warriors. Cyane can command her archers, and I'm going to arm the rest with spears."

"Gabrielle, you'll be killed if you stay." Xena said, her alarm causing her voice to rise. "This is a suicidal battle. You know that, don't you?"

"I know," I said, "but I can't abandon them. They're the last of my people and they need me. I'm responsible for what's happened too."

"I wish I could fight alongside you tomorrow." She whispered, feeling the same longing I'd felt at Higuchi. Just to be together, even in the worst of times; because that's what friends do. Now the situation was reversed; she was the one who felt helpless and left behind.

"I wish you could too, but it's too late for that, my love. You've fought your last battle and soon I'll join you. In a way I look forward to it. We'll be together again at last."

"How doomed and pathetic," Ares taunted, as he appeared with a flash.

"Ares, I do not need this!" I screamed at him, jumping to my feet to face him.

"Oh yes you do, Gabrielle," he replied, "you need a kick in the butt to help you think. You will never fight your way out of this tomorrow. If you want your precious nation to survive you'll have to use your wits. After all, Varia won't be thinking much any more. Remember, my offer still stands, and now you're in charge."

His words echoed in the hut as he vanished. I collapsed on the floor. I hated him so much I couldn't think of anything. Xena sat on my cot. She was looking at where Ares had been, but her mind was a million miles away.

"He's right, you know," she finally said, "you're going to have to come up with a strategy to offset the enemy's advantages."

"I thought you were going to tell me, 'he's right, Varia won't be thinking any more'," I spat at her with sarcasm, "I can't believe you'd agree with him about anything."

"Well, he's right about Varia too." Xena sighed. "Gabrielle, I know he's a maddening bastard, but he's also the God of War, and he's often hidden good advice in his taunts. All the gods hide what they really mean within their words. It's sort of a test. I'm sure he told us something useful."

"Maybe you're used to dealing with him," I said, "but I just hate him."

Xena didn't answer. She had already returned to contemplating Ares' words. I sat back down next to her on the cot and tried to focus. Tomorrow I had to lead a suicidal defense. My forces were reduced to about thirty warriors, and they would face nearly a hundred and fifty soldiers. Their queen was brain dead, and her body was lying in an endless sleep. Her spirit was probably only hanging around to watch the bitter end of her people. My lover's spirit would also be watching the battle. If only she could be with us tomorrow. I laughed at the situation. It was "doomed and pathetic". I closed my eyes and wished I were a little girl again.

"What?" Xena asked as I snapped upright.

"Aphrodite…" I muttered, remembering one of the Love Goddess' misadventures. I was glad I'd retold all our stories in Alexandria recently.

"Gabrielle, what are you thinking?"

"Xena," I asked, grabbing her arms and staring into her eyes, "I have to know. The vengeance that the 40,000 souls from Higuchi demanded, what exactly was required to satisfy them?"

"Uhh, well, I had to stay dead," she answered, puzzled at my question.

"Your body or your spirit?"

"Well, you can't bring a person back to life after their body's burned and the two days have passed. As far as I know, they were satisfied when the sun set. Anyway, I haven't heard or seen anything from any of them since we left Japa. They didn't demand a ghost killer slay my ghost…I've been with you all this time. What are you thinking Gabrielle?"

I didn't answer her because I was already running out of the hut. I ran all the way to the center of the village and I started calling out for the Goddess of Love.

"Gabby!" Aphrodite squealed with glee as she appeared in a burst of pink hearts, "I've been wondering when I'd hear from you."

She was so totally oblivious to our desperate situation that I had to laugh. I hugged her, genuinely glad to see my friend untouched by all the surrounding doom and heartbreak.

"It's good to see you too, Aphrodite." I said, stepping back from her. She hadn't changed a bit, of course.

"I heard about your Warrior Babe being killed, Gabs," she said, her sadness apparent in her expression, "I'm soooo sorry. One of the saddest things in my domain is the separation of soul mates. I know you keep her alive in your heart."

"Thanks, Aphrodite. I miss her so much even though she's not completely gone. It's just not the same. I really thought we'd be together for so much longer. A lot's changed."

She looked at the space next to me where Xena's spirit had appeared, and she actually squinted, looking perplexed.

"I can't keep this up without inviting a wrinkle, but I'd swear I can see Xena's shadow. Has she been hanging around, Little One?"

"Yeah, she's been with me since she was killed," I confessed, "how come you can see her and Ares couldn't?"

"Well, duh. She's only here cause of your love," Aphrodite explained, "and my brother never really looks for that kind of thing."

"Can you get any more 'here'?" she asked Xena, and I saw my soul mate's ghost become an increment sharper, more defined.

"Much better!" the Goddess exclaimed happily. "No wrinkles for these brows. It's really good to see you, Warrior Babe."

"It's good to see you too." Xena told her, looking uncomfortable. "I guess I kinda let you down, leaving Gabrielle by dying on her. It's just that, well, I had to do something that got me killed, again. The best I can do now is stick around for as long as she wants me."

She looked at us, and I could see the hint of tears in her eyes.

"You two are so special," she said, "you have a love that's stronger than death. What a classic. Celesta's probably sputtering like a wick over this. On the other hand, Xena, your search for redemption is like a wino's need to get drunk. It's hard on a relationship, you have to hobble back afterwards, and nothing satisfies the craving. You've gotta lighten up. You're just lucky Gabby loves you as much as she does. Now, what can Mighty Aphrodite do for you?"

"Aphrodite, I have a favor I need to ask" I told her. "Uhh, could you start by zapping us over to the healer's hut? It's Varia, I'll explain when we're there."


"So what happened to her?" Aphrodite asked, staring down at Varia's body. "I mean, she's not just asleep is she?"

"No. She got hit in the head, hard." I explained. "We think her soul has been separated from her body."

"Seems like…" the Goddess of Love agreed, glancing around the hut to be sure, "it's not hangin around here. Can't believe a soul would leave such a hot bod. Must have been some mean whack to drive her out like that."

"Her brain's damaged," Xena told her sadly, "as far as we can tell she'll never recover."

"Of course not." Aphrodite declared. "Without a soul she'll just go to waste. And they think I'm ditzy."

"Aphrodite, the Amazon Nation needs her," Xena said, "they've been under constant attack by my enemies for the last three years. Now almost all the Amazons are dead. Tomorrow may be their last battle, and Gabrielle will be leading their warriors. I can't help them now, but maybe Queen Varia can. Queen Marga once said their Nation would be lost without her. If there's anything you can do, please…."

"Aphrodite, remember the spell you used to put Xena in Daphne's body?" I asked, reminding her of the little girl Xena had inhabited for a day.

"Well sure, Hon, it's pretty simple. Only problem is, we'd need to find Varia's soul."

"You said it's not around here?" Xena asked, to confirm what the goddess had said. "Is there any way to find out for sure?"

"Not a problem," Aphrodite claimed, "gotta sec?"

"Sure. Xena and I'll wait for you."

"Back in a flash, Sweet Cheeks," she declared with a smile as she vanished.

"So that's your plan?" Xena asked me. "Get Aphrodite to bring Varia back so she can lead the Amazons? What about the actual damage to her brain?"

"Well, that shouldn't be too big an order for her," I said, concentrating on her last question, "not much worse than fixing a cut or a bruise, right? I mean, it's not like she's restoring a life, really. She's just patching up some damage and transplanting a soul."

"Gabrielle, you know how she sometimes gets things mixed up." Xena said, being charitable. I knew she'd never considered Aphrodite the most reliable of the gods, though she was often the most sincere.

"Well, she's gone, right outta here," the goddess reported, after reappearing a few moments later, "she's off with her friends in their spirit realm…you know, the angst palace."

"So now what?" Xena asked me, her shoulders slumping.

"Aphrodite, can you fix up her body?" I asked, because you can't have a warrior without a body. "You know, repair her injuries so she's physically ok?"

"Sure, but why?" She asked, gesturing at the unconscious Varia. "I mean, I can paint the house, but no one's home."

"How about a new tenant?" I offered, looking pointedly at Xena. She just stared back at me like I'd smacked her. Aphrodite giggled.

"Great thinking, Gabby," she said with a wink, "bet she'll be fun on cold nights by the campfire, too."

I rolled my eyes; Xena was beginning to stutter. Aphrodite clapped her hands, giggling.

"Done!" She declared with evident pride.

Xena had disappeared in a shower of pink hearts that now shrouded Varia's body.

"Guess you can handle it from here, Hon," the goddess said with a wink, "let me know if she's as hot as tall, dark, and deadly." Then she vanished.

"I can't believe you did that!" Xena's incredulous voice remarked from Varia's mouth as she slowly raised herself from the cot. She seemed only mildly disoriented as she looked at me, and then down at herself. "This has got to be your most outrageous plan yet."

I was having a hard time keeping myself from jumping on her. My soulmate was back, and I'd favor Varia over Callisto as a surrogate any day. She was alive! The first part of my plan had worked.

"Xena, you've got a new chance at life! She really did it!" I exclaimed, actually jumping up and down with excitement. I hadn't been so happy in years.

"Yeah, she really did, didn't she," Xena said, the wonder of it finally hitting her, and at last she smiled at me, "thanks, I guess."

I grabbed her in a hug. "I'm sorry I didn't discuss it with you first. I didn't want to have to try and argue to convince you before she got bored and left. Just figure it's for the Greater Good."

"At least you found a way to bring me back," Xena said, squeezing me, "and you found me a good strong body too."

"Thought you'd appreciate that," I said, looking her over, "cause we've got a battle coming real soon."

"Oh yeah, that," Xena deadpanned, "no rest for the dead, huh."


Xena, Cyane, and I met with the remaining Amazons, in a council of war, during the last hours of darkness. At first they were elated that Varia had survived and seemed uninjured. Then they stood around looking stunned when I told them it was Xena's spirit in Varia's body, and that Varia was dead. Finally they sat on the ground in disbelief when I outlined my plan. We gave them one candle mark to prepare for the battle.

"Are you sure you can pull this off?" I asked my soul mate, as Cyane looked on apprehensively. "If you think you can't, let me know and we'll all get out of here."

"Piece of cake." She replied with a grin. "The element of surprise is a potent weapon."

"I can't watch this, I'm sorry," Cyane apologized as she got to her feet, "it's a great plan, Gabrielle, but I'm afraid I'll give it away."

"It's ok, Cyane, we can handle it. Why don't you ready the troops?" I asked her as she backed out of the meeting hall.

"Well, I guess it's up to you, my queen." I said with a smile, as I put the finishing touches on the document I'd been writing. "Let's make a deal."

"Ares! I call upon the God of War. Appear before the Council of the Amazon Nation." Xena sounded just like the late queen. I guess Varia's vocal chords came with the rest of her body. It was eerie, like meeting her ghost.

"You rang?" He said as he appeared between our chairs, grinning. "I see you've made an unexpected recovery, Varia, how come you're not dancing and howling at the moon?"

"Read our proposal, Queen Gabrielle," she directed humorlessly. She cast a glare of loathing at the God of War.

"As High Queen of the Amazon Nation, I sign this document to ratify an alliance between the God of War and the Amazon Nation. Henceforth our armies will stand as one, in mutual defense and with mutual purpose. I call upon Ares, the God of War, to be the patron god of the Amazon Nation, until such time as the Nation is no more. Signed, Varia, High Queen of the Amazon Nation."

I read the words I had written; my voice choked with desperation. I watched the smile of triumph grow on Ares' face as he listened to his desire being granted.

"It is more important for the nation to survive, than to remain faithful to a dead goddess," he heard Varia declare, her bitterness evident in every word.

"Well, I see you finally came to your senses." The God of War patronized. "A dead goddess is only fit for a dead nation, but a living god can help your nation live to fight another day."

"If you agree, seal the contract with your thumb prints," I told them both in a quavering voice.

Ares came forward first and pressed his thumb to the parchment, causing it to smoke. Next, Varia cut her palm with a dagger, dipped her thumb in the blood, and made her impression beside it.

"Apollo's army attacks at dawn," he said, "and my army will be here, waiting to destroy them."

He took the contract and vanished. Xena and I looked at each other across the table, and neither of us said a word.


Dawn's light spread through the trees as the sun rose over the wooded hills. Our sentries whistled an alarm outside the village, and the tramp of soldiers' boots on the road signaled the coming attack. They advanced, marching heedlessly up from the south. Awaiting them within our huts and behind a barricade in the center of the village were Ares' legions. From the trees surrounding the entrance to the village, Amazon archers covered the road. The remaining Amazons, armed with spears, were hidden in the underbrush, waiting to cut off any retreat.

Xena and I stayed away from Ares, sticking with our troops. We held our breaths as they passed by us, moving into the village. With their overwhelming numbers they had opted for a simple frontal assault. There were no flanking companies, no reserves, and no waves of attack. The officers rode in with their men, expecting only token resistance from less than three dozen warriors. We counted heads as they passed. We would have been outnumbered five to one.

The last of them had entered the village when our archers shot down their officers at thirty yards. They continued firing at the rearmost of the enemy ranks as our warriors closed the road behind them with a phalanx of spears. Apollo's soldiers began to turn towards us to counterattack, screaming battle cries and demanding vengeance. Then the army of the God of War charged past the barricade and out of our huts to attack. The army of Apollo had gone from a five to one advantage to being outmanned by an army of twice their strength. The slaughter lasted less than a candle mark. As Ares oversaw his soldiers taking the heads of the last of the enemy, the Amazons faded into the woods.

Ares appeared before us in the ceremonial clearing outside the village. It was sometimes used for rites that were not to be done within the village proper, and it was also used for funeral pyres. Now it was decorated with the heads of Apollo's soldiers, each atop a pike. They were intended to be witnesses. Ares had fulfilled his part of the bargain. Now he sought our oath of allegiance. He was holding the contract.

"So, now the Amazon Nation shall be pledged to the God of War," he gloated in triumph.

"That contract isn't worth the parchment it's written on," I told him, drawing a perplexed look and a reexamination of the document.

"What do you mean, Gabrielle? It looks fine to me. That's my thumbprint. I think I'd recognize it anywhere," he said with less certainty, "and we both saw Varia put hers next to it, though she didn't exactly seem jubilant."

"Varia's dead, Ares. She was killed in the raid," Xena said, her voice unmistakable to the God who knew her so well, "and the dead can't enter into binding contracts."

"What kind of trick is this?" Ares looked from Varia's body to me and back to Xena again, "How can you be in there? Everyone knows you're dead!"

"Then you admit neither Varia nor Xena could sign that contract?" I asked, perplexing him even more. "Ares, everyone knows Xena doesn't stay dead," I chided him, "and you know Varia would never have signed this."

He looked back and forth between us again, his anger building as he acknowledged the truth of what I had said.

"Gabrielle, this is your doing isn't it?" He accused.

"Sure is," Xena confessed for me, wrapping an arm around my waist, "and I'm really proud of her. A real Warrior Princess, don't ya think, Ares?"

He stood there for a few moments, and then a smile slowly spread across his face. I could almost read his mind. Now he'd have two of us to torment with his plots and meddling. Finally he actually laughed, and the contract went up in flames.

"Well, I guess it's not such a loss. The Amazons are practically gone. Won't be any fun here for quite a few years. But you two…you know I'll be seeing you around."

He started to vanish, and then he changed his mind and reappeared for a moment.

"It's good to have you back, Xena. And though I miss the old you, you're still easy on the eyes." Then he vanished for good, his laughter ringing in the air after he was gone.

"Well, that didn't go so badly," I said, as I stopped Xena from pulling away, "don't be in such a hurry, you just got back, and I've gotta get to know you again."

I winked at her, and she smiled, so I pushed my luck and wrapped my arms around her and gave her a kiss. I didn't have to reach up as far, or she didn't have to bend down as low, I wasn't really trying too hard to figure out which. And when I closed my eyes, I could see her as she'd always been. This was certainly going to be interesting, I thought, the last time we'd been together, Varia had tried to shoot me in the back.

In a way I thought I had found a home at last. I was a queen, and the remaining Amazons needed us. After all the damage our enemies had visited on the Amazon Nation, I felt Xena and I had a debt to pay. Xena and I needed some time to adjust. The idea of staying in the village for a while seemed good to me. Maybe I could finally start writing down the story of our last adventure.


"I really am proud of you, Gabrielle," Xena told me later, when we were alone in my hut, sitting in front of the hearth, "I don't think I've ever come up with a better plan myself."

"It was pretty good, wasn't it?" I said happily. "We saved the Amazons, beat Apollo's army, and tricked Ares, not to mention bringing you back to life."

"You really have become the Warrior Princess."

"Well, I've become a Warrior Princess," I allowed, "you're still the original item."

It was funny to see Xena blush in Varia's body. I remember thinking I could get used to this. Then she became serious and she looked at me until I squirmed a little under her examination.

"You've changed in a lot of ways," she said, "mostly good. You're more confident, resourceful, and a much better fighter, but…."

"But what, Xena?"

"Uhh, well, I guess I just have to get used to the new you, and the new me"

She wasn't telling me something, and in the past I might have let it go, but not the "new and improved" Gabrielle, oh no, not me. I'd heard something behind her words.

"Come on, Xena, you were thinking of something. Spill it, what's wrong?"

"Well, it's nothing…."

"Oh goat piss! I know you, now please tell me, Xena." It was a demand more than a request and we both knew it.

She took a deep breath. This would not be good; I could feel it.

"Gabrielle, since Japa you've been different. I noticed it in the way you fought the pirates, and again in the village near Thessalonika. You've lost your doubts about killing entirely. On the road outside the village you didn't even bat an eye at all those bodies. The horror of war doesn't seem to affect you any more."

"Xena, I know I'm different." I said seriously. "I guess I've come to accept the necessity of war. I'm a warrior now and the queen of a nation of warriors. I've been changing for a long time, but it really hit me at Helicon. Then there was Japa. I guess I just got harder after you died, especially after I saw your body…something in me died too."

She shook her head, then hesitantly she continued.

"Uhh, when I was a spirit, I umm, I watched the attack on the soldiers' camp. And I, uhh, saw the fight when Varia got injured…"

"Yeah, I was there, remember? What about it?"

"Gabrielle, do you really remember? I mean every kill, every blow, every attack?"

"Well, there were six soldiers circling around behind Varia and her guards. I hit two with the chakram, slashed two, impaled one, and disarmed the last and clubbed him. Then I got to where Varia had been attacked and had to knock out another one. I wanted to save the last Amazon guard but I wasn't in time. I used the chakram to kill the two soldiers who impaled her. After that I checked the bodies of the Amazons. They'd been stabbed or slashed, and they were all dead. Then I found Varia. She'd been slashed across the stomach but she was alive, so I carried her away. When we got back we found she was brain dead, and you said you had seen her struck on the head with a war club…."

I hadn't remembered everything; or rather I hadn't understood what I had remembered. A numbness started in my throat, and spread like ice down to the pit of my stomach. The Amazons had died by the sword, only Varia had been clubbed, and only I'd had a club.

"Xena…" I pleaded as I looked at her and saw her image blur, "did you see…d, di, did I…oh gods, Xena, did I hit her?"

She was looking at me with the most pitying expression. I could see in her eyes what she'd witnessed as she nodded "yes".

"You were the only one of that group who could see in the dark," she whispered, "when you fought the soldiers they could barely even see you, yet you killed them as easily as in daylight. Even I would have hesitated to throw the chakram with that little light, and now your reactions are faster than mine are. They have been ever since you left Japa."

"I didn't know," I sobbed, "I mean, I don't know how I couldn't know, cause I should. You're right. I should never have made a mistake like that. I shouldn't be capable of making a mistake like that."

Xena slid over and took me in her arms as I shook, crying in confusion, and guilt, and disbelief. Everything had seemed so good, and now it had all fallen apart. I had clubbed Varia and left her brain dead. That had opened the possibility of bringing Xena back and fooling Ares. And there had been past issues between us. People would remember the history of hostilities between Varia and I. She had resented my soul mate almost from the start. Xena was the mother of Livia. I had challenged Varia's authority and been beaten while trying to defend Eve. She had almost killed me with treachery at Helicon, and I had stripped her of her queen's medallion and her command. I had gained much and all at the expense of someone who most could believe I hated.

Did I hate her, I asked myself? On some level had I taken the opportunity to even the score? I'd seen the brain dead man in that village outside Thessalonika. Had that given me an idea, a plan I hadn't even been aware of? I had suggested the raid on the enemy camp. Had I set up a situation and taken advantage of it? I honestly didn't know.

I looked at my love, and knew she saw the pain and confusion in my eyes.

"Gabrielle, I don't know what's happening," Xena told me gravely, "but I know you, and I know this isn't the kind of thing you would do. I think you've changed in ways we may not understand. Things have been different since you left Japa. I can promise you this. We will find out what's happening, and we will find a way to set things right."

Her faith in me was the rock I needed in that moment of doubt. I realized how much things had changed. Now she was supporting me as I was being drowned by remorse and guilt. Maybe I had become a monster, and Xena was alive in my victim's body. With the disjointed thoughts born of emotional devastation, I remembered that I had been contemplating how to start writing the story I'd believed was finally finished. Instead it was the beginning of another trial…and I realized that our story really never ends.

Stay Tuned

(Next Week on Xena: The Soul of the Sword)

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